by Janice Tufet, Medicare beneficiary
On March 1, 2020, I had just finished a two-day Complex Care and Social Needs Core Competency steering group meeting in Camden, New Jersey, where experts had gathered to design a program that is used today. On the Philadelphia tarmac readying to fly home I took one last glace at my phone for any messages. “Virus Outbreak in Kirkland, WA Nursing Home” appeared on my screen.
Having been actively involved with public health activities, I had faith in our national agencies’ ability to effectively tackle this virus. I am a Medicare recipient, and I am concerned about the health of individuals with autoimmune issues, social needs, and complex and chronic conditions, particularly about how any virus might impact and disrupt our daily lives.
I was vaccinated as a child and have kept up on my boosters and vaccinations when they were scheduled and or when I was asked to take them, for example when I travelled. I was taken aback at the strength of SARS CoV-2 and how too many were on ventilators or had passed away where they had been so vibrant just days before. I am involved with health systems research as a patient partner and I became involved nationally in projects to help mitigate future systemic problems including shutdowns of needed services, social isolation, health access and more.
There was a worldwide collective sigh (though accompanied with anxiety) when the just developed SARS CoV-2 MRNA vaccine arrived. This was a new vaccine development process and hope was gingerly mixed with uncertainty. Mass vaccination sites opened with people volunteering to help with the logistics of vaccine distribution to try and serve the greatest number. There were so many challenges to get the vaccines to hard-to-reach areas: vaccines had to stay at a certain temperature, expiration times were short, people who could not obtain the vaccine quickly enough were angry. Collaborative efforts were taken to ensure the underserved, marginalized and vulnerable would have access to the vaccine as it seemed it could not come fast enough.
The vaccines were found to be successful in slowing and stopping hospitalizations! Communities were still grieving over loved ones lost to the virus, taken so quickly, so unexpectedly. Time seemed to have stopped during 2020, streets were empty and no one escaped hearing of the horrors from the SARS CoV2 on the news and or from friends and family. We regained hope that a new normal could be collectively achieved in our diverse communities.
Being over 65, I was in one of the earlier groups to receive the vaccine. Afterwards, I experienced feelings of great gratitude, but also of guilt, wondering who might have perhaps needed that vaccine more than I. I continued to have my boosters throughout 2021 as well as the bivalent booster that also addresses the mutating Omicron variant.
Hospitalizations for the virus are currently way down, though most of the current inpatient stays are the treasured oldest members of our society. We know that older immune systems are less effective at fighting viruses than younger ones.
As an older adult I want to remain healthy, maintain my quality of life and stay out of hospitals. For these reasons I am glad I recently received the bivalent booster. My immune system has been able to fight off this virus and I feel safer than if I had not received the vaccine. I wish the same health and immunity to viruses for others that I have benefited from.